Continuing my new series of guest heirloom recipes is chef-proprietor Alex Von Riebech of Limetree Kitchen. Alex is a talented chef and his intimate modern European restaurant in Lewes enjoys a loyal following for its creative locally sourced menu and thoughtfully compiled wine list. Here, Alex shares his great grandmother’s Anglo-Indian recipe for Pish Pash: a comforting, baked chicken and rice dish that is the perfect means to introduce the pleasures of spicy food to children.
My family emigrated from Calcutta in 1956, settling in South London among many ex-colonialists that had ended up back at their starting point in the years following the Suez campaign. I came along much later but when my parents separated I too was whisked away from the small village where I lived in Surrey and taken to the hustle and bustle of South London. It dawned on me that my background was a little different to that of my peers when I realised I didn’t actually know the English words for cumin and turmeric, I knew them only as I had heard from my grandma, as jeera and huldi. That, and the fact that we never ate fish fingers or other things that I would be given when I went to my friend’s houses!
In my family we describe our food (and ourselves) as Anglo-Indian. The food I grew up eating is essentially a fusion of Indian and British ingredients and ideas. When I reminisce, I am instantly transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen where I first learnt how to cook. I vividly remember standing at eye-level with the turmeric-stained table, cloves and cardamoms punctuating the air with aromatic gusto and the windows fugged up from steaming-hot rice. I remember the melamine oven door handle, long since cracked and fallen off, was replaced with a block of wood that seemed to have been whittled savagely from a lump found in the garden. My tiny grandmother would be huddled over the stove, stirring away and wafting the aromas into her little face, her grey-blue eyes gleaming with excitement at her creations.
When my grandad had a cold, he would ask Grandma to make the curry extra hot, or he would even sit and munch on fresh green chillies to purge his body of illness. This chilli munching was a technique I tried unsuccessfully several times as a child, resulting in me quaffing gallons of milk and spoonfuls of sugar to rid my mouth of the hellish burn!
Kids will try to emulate grown ups, but it is generally accepted that spicy flavours should be introduced to them gently. It is with this in mind that my great grandmother came up with this dish, as an introduction to Anglo-Indian cuisine. As kids we called it Pish Pash (an onomatopoeic delight!), and it has since been passed down from generation to generation of our family. As the kids grow older, we slowly start adding Balichow, a hot pickle with one of the main ingredients being fermented shrimp. Balichow is so pungent that if you taste it you would be forgiven for recoiling briefly in shock, although afterwards, like almost everyone, you will probably end up dreaming lustily after it!
Now I watch my children gleefully stuff their faces with this sticky chicken and rice, smothered in a load of salted butter. While Pish Pash is designed for them, for me as an adult it has become something of a comfort food. It transports me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen and puts a huge smile on my face, reminding me how synonymous food can be with happiness and why I do what I do for 15 hours a day.
8 pieces of chicken (drumstick and thigh)
2cm square of ginger, finely sliced
1 tbsp of sunflower oil
50g unsalted butter
3 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
2 cinnamon sticks
2 pints chicken stock
750g long grain rice (washed and drained)
Put the oil in the pan and heat gently. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and seal. When they start to colour, add the butter. Cover with the chicken stock followed by the rice and spices. Stir and season to taste. Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in a pre-heated oven at 180c and cook until rice is soft and slightly sticky. Check after half an hour and if the rice is still firm, cook for a little longer.
Serve with a generous knob of butter and Balichow if you are feeling brave!
Disclosure: this is not a sponsored post
For details about my Heirloom Recipes series and how to submit your contributions, please see here
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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